I started law school when I was 29, and graduated when I was 32. The majority of my classmates had come right from college, but there were plenty of students in their late twenties up into mid to late 30’s. It really wasn’t a big deal.
Generally I found that the older students handled law school better than the 22 year olds. They (and I, if I do say so myself) tended to have a better idea of why they had come to law school, and tended to get less caught up with a lot of the nonsense and stress at law school.
So, what to expect in the first week. Your going to get your class schedule, and your syllabus for each class. Probably you will have a reading assignment for the first day of each class. These reading assignments will almost certainly consist at least partly of cases.
When you first read the cases–which may be hundreds of years old–you are probably going to think, man what the hell have I gotten myself into, I can’t understand what is going on here. But then you are going to read each one again. And you are going to look up every term you don’t understand in Black’s law dictionary. And you are going to think about each case.
And, more importantly, you are going to start asking some questions about each case. First question: what happened? What is the story in this case? Forget you are in LAW SCHOOL. Instead, just focus on the story behind each case. Pretend like you have to explain the case to your aunt: One guy was chasing a fox, and another guy snatched the fox just as the first guy was about to catch it. One guy sold a cow to another guy. Both parties assumed the cow was barren and set the price accordingly, but it turns out the cow was pregnat. The seller wants his cow back. Don’t worry about legalese. Worry about two (or more) people and the story between them.
Ok, so that’s step 1: you know what happened before any lawyers got involved in the case.
Second, who sued who? Why did the plaintiff sue? What did he or she want?
Third, who won?
Fourth, why, according to the Judge who wrote the opinion, did the winner win? Why did the loser lose? Do you agree with the decision? Why? Why not? Does the rule announced by the judge make any sense? Could you apply it to similar cases? Does the rule have any weird consequences? Try to dream up hypothetical cases and think how the rule would apply. Does it make sense? Does it leave questions unanswered? Allow yourself to get caught up in all these questions. They are what–to me at least–makes the law a fascinating, challenging profession and intellectual exercise.
Be ready to talk about the answers to these questions and you will be in fine shape.
Ok, now comes the advice.
My first piece of advice is to remember why you went to law school, and keep the focus on that goal. The reason I say that is that there are plenty of people who do not have a clear idea of their goal, and so they get a goal foisted on them without even thinking about it, and that goal is “get better grades than everybody else and get a more prestigious job than everybody else.”
It’s fine to set a goal for yourself in terms of grades, but just make sure that you are setting the goal rather than letting someone else set it for you.
Second, speaking of grades, I will pass along second hand advice from a friend of mine who did tremendously well on his exams, and in fact wound up clerking on the Supreme Court. What he did was to focus relentlessly on the material that was going to be on the exam. The way he figured out what was going to be on the exam was to spend every afternoon reviewing his notes from class. Invariably he found that what was discussed in class was what the professor thought was important, and what wound up on the exam.
Don’t worry too much about what happens in class. That doesn’t matter to your grade (or it usually doesn’t matter). At first you won’t be able to help it, and you may get nervous about getting called on in class. Soon you will relax about it because you’ll realize that it’s no big deal. What matters is what happens on the exam.
As to studying with other people, I found things worked best when I studied with one other person. There was one guy in my section that I met the first day of law school. We hit it off and decided to study together. In the last few weeks of each quarter before exams, we used to get together to study, and it really helped me a lot. We also studied at his house, rather than at the library or at the law school.
We also had a rule. We never talked about exams after they were over, and we never talked about grades. The ONLY thing we were allowed to say after an exam was “well, I’m glad that’s over.”
But I’d say the main thing is, keep the focus on what your goals are and what you are trying to accomplish by being there.